Filling out Biden's brackets
President Joe Biden has big spending ambitions — beyond the coronavirus relief and stimulus package — and his administration is working on big changes in tax policy on high earners and corporations to help pay for the costs. If he gets them, it would be the first major federal tax hike since 1993.
Bloomberg News reported that among those changes planned or under consideration are raising the income tax rate on individuals earning more than $400,000; raising the corporate tax rate to 28% from 21%; expanding reach of the estate tax; increasing the capital-gains tax rate for individuals earning at least $1 million annually; and paring back tax preferences for so-called pass-through businesses, such as limited-liability companies or partnerships.
For the Biden administration, the planned changes would serve two primary goals: not just to fund key initiatives like infrastructure, climate and expanded help for poorer Americans, but also to address what Democrats argue are inequities in the tax system. "The focus is on addressing the unequal treatment between work and wealth," said Sarah Bianchi, a former economic aide to Biden.
White House economist Heather Boushey said in a Bloomberg TV interview on Monday that for "folks at the top who’ve been able to benefit from this economy and haven’t been this hard-hit, there’s a lot of room there to think about what kinds of revenue we can raise."
No date has yet been set for an announcement, though the White House has said the plan would follow the signing of the COVID-19 relief bill, which occurred last week. Under regular Senate rules, Democrats would need at least 10 Republicans to back the new tax bill, a daunting prospect.
In a related move, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is working with her counterparts worldwide to forge an agreement on a global minimum tax on multinational corporations, according to The Washington Post. A theory behind the idea is that it would make it harder for multinational corporations to play countries off one another by threatening to pack up and leave.
It remains highly unclear whether Yellen and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, comprising more than 140 countries, can successfully negotiate an agreement on multinational corporations, particularly given the complexity involved in coordinating new tax rules across so many different countries, the Post wrote.
Troubled by Cuomo
The White House further distanced itself from New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Monday amid reports that his vaccine czar blurred lines by querying county-level officials in the state about their loyalty to Cuomo amid sexual misconduct allegations.
"New developments seem to happen every day," Biden press secretary Jen Psaki said at her briefing Monday. "We find them troubling. The president finds them troubling." She called the reports of the political grilling by Larry Schwartz, a longtime Cuomo aide who leads efforts to coordinate New York State's vaccine rollout with localities, "concerning" and "inappropriate."
Psaki added: "We also have a number of steps in the system to ensure that the people of New York, the people of any state [that] the vaccines are being distributed fairly and equitably." Cuomo's office on Monday afternoon released a statement defending Schwartz, saying the vaccination program aide would "never link political support to public health decisions."
Biden has not joined the calls of many prominent Democrats urging Cuomo to resign, saying he wanted to see what the ongoing investigations find. For more developments on the Cuomo scandals, see Newsday's story by Yancey Roy.
Charge two attacked Capitol cop who died
Federal law enforcement officials have arrested and charged two men with assaulting Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick with a toxic chemical spray during the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection, but they do not know yet whether it caused the 42-year-old’s death.
George Tanios, 39, of Morgantown, West Virginia, and Julian Khater, 32, of State College, Pennsylvania, were arrested Sunday on an array of charges, including assaulting a federal officer with a dangerous weapon, conspiracy and other offenses.
The arrests are the closest that federal prosecutors have come to identifying and charging anyone associated with the deaths that happened during and after the riot, The Associated Press reported. Investigators, who originally thought Sicknick died of injuries from being bludgeoned with a fire extinguisher, now believe his death may have been a result of being attacked with a chemical substance, possibly bear spray. Conclusive autopsy results are still pending.
Meanwhile, Capitol Police are modifying some of the security barriers erected after the riot, Roll Call reports. Plans are to move the inner fence closer to the Capitol, remove the razor wire on that fence and permit more access through roads and sidewalks. There are also plans to remove the outer perimeter fencing and open Independence and Constitution avenues to traffic toward the end of the week of March 22.
Making America inocu-late
The Biden White House isn't against the idea advanced by Dr. Anthony Fauci that former President Donald Trump could do more to promote coronavirus vaccinations among his skeptical supporters — they just doubt it would make that much of a difference.
"I discussed it with my team, and they say the thing that has more impact — than anything Trump would say to the MAGA folks — is what the local doctors, what the local preachers, what the local people in the community say," Biden told reporters who asked about the idea on Monday. There has been no comment so far from Trump.
Earlier, Psaki said, "Every other living former president … has participated in public campaigns. They did not need an engraved invitation to do so. So he [Trump] may decide he should do that. If so, great." She added: "There are a lot of different ways to engage to reach out to ensure that people of a range of political support and backing know the vaccine is safe and effective."
The suggestion that Trump's vaccination endorsement would have limited appeal with his supporters was borne out by a focus group conducted Saturday by veteran Republican pollster Frank Luntz, according to The Washington Post. The 19 pro-Trump participants said their own doctor or spouse would carry more influence than Trump in overcoming their COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy. They responded best to apolitical, medical-based arguments by Dr. Tom Frieden, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, whose service in the Obama administration went unmentioned.
In the next several weeks, the White House will unveil a $1.5 billion public relations campaign aimed at boosting COVID-19 vaccine confidence, reports STAT, a health news website. Mindful that appeals directly from Biden or Fauci are not likely to sway vaccine-hesitant people, they are expected to recruit both celebrities and trusted local officials to advance the pro-vaccination message.
Border crisis: New beds for 3,000
The U.S. government plans to house up to 3,000 migrant teenagers at a convention center in downtown Dallas as federal authorities struggle to find space for the surge of unaccompanied minors at the border, The Associated Press reported. The space will be used for boys 15 to 17 years old.
The growing number of child arrivals comes at a politically charged moment, with Congress taking up immigration legislation this week. Republicans portray a border crisis spinning out of control. "This crisis is created by the presidential policies of this new administration," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Monday while leading a large congressional delegation to El Paso, Texas. Meanwhile, migrant advocates complain that the children are being held in deplorable conditions.
"It’s not acceptable, but I think the challenge here is there are not that many options," Psaki said at her briefing. "We have a lot of critics, but many are not putting forward solutions," Psaki added. "The options here are sending the kids back on the journey, sending them to unvetted homes" or the administration's chosen course of "working to expedite sending them into shelters where they can get treatment by medical doctors, educational resources, legal resources and mental health counseling."
More coronavirus news
See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments on Long Island and beyond by Newsday's Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.
What else is happening:
- The Biden’s administration told the Supreme Court on Monday that low-level possession of crack cocaine should be covered under a federal law that reduced certain prison sentences, reversing the position taken under Trump. Although Trump signed the 2018 law known as the First Step Act, his administration concluded that possession of a small amount of crack cocaine was not a "covered offense."
- Army Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman is set to be promoted to full colonel, despite attempts by Trump loyalists to derail his career following his family member's role in the former president's first impeachment, Politico reports. His twin brother, Alexander Vindman, chose to retire from the Army as lieutenant colonel after he faced what he called "a campaign of bullying, intimidation, and retaliation" following his testimony at the first Trump impeachment's hearings.
- Gene Sperling, a senior economic official during the Bill Clinton and Barack Obama presidencies, was named Monday to oversee the Biden administration’s implementation of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief and stimulus package. Biden calling Sperling a "gifted manager" who would help ensure "the benefits of the American Rescue Plan go out quickly and directly to the American people, where they belong."
- Some customers of JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo are expressing frustration that their coronavirus stimulus payments direct-deposited from the IRS won't be available until March 17, CBS News reported. Other banks are crediting the funds to customer accounts immediately.
- In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, who served as a senior Trump adviser, offered a positive assessment of Biden's policy so far toward Iran in spurning Tehran's conditions for resuming nuclear negotiations. Kushner said the Biden administration "has one asset that the Trump administration never had — a relationship with Iran."
- Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico won Senate confirmation as secretary of the Interior Department in a 51-40 vote Monday. She becomes the first Native American to head a Cabinet agency. Her mission will be to essentially reverse the agency’s tilt under Trump that favored energy and mining interests over conservation.